Screwston, Texas

On Trae Day No. 8, a Rapper at the Center of His Community

“My burden is to describe things as precisely as I see them.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Trae Tha Truth is all smiles inside Wire Road Studios. The 35-year-old rapper is busy walking around, shaking hands and offering embraces to anyone who would ask. He wears gold on his hands and around his neck like an Egyptian king, motions at times for a few runners and street team members clad in “THA TRUTH” T-shirts to partake of the food and mingle.

Wire Road is almost like home for him. He banters with in-house producer Issac “Chill” Yowman, a noted producer in his own right, before peering outside. He doesn’t let his feet rest for more than a couple seconds before shuffling back inside the secondary control room where his new album is being played. When he speaks, everything stops, all eyes on him.

“Aye, I’m glad my brother Bun B could make it. This nigga held me down through a lot. Salute to you, my brother,” he motions towards Bun B, who snuck inside the studio’s control room. The building has hosted many a listening session within its walls but none of them have garnered this amount of reunion, of familiarity. Bun nods his head, offers a salute back to Trae before posing for a few pictures.

The album features a wide name of artists, some nationally recognized and respected such as Future, J.Cole and Boosie Badazz to regional slappers such as Problem, Que and Snooite Wild. The tenor of the album rides right in line with previous Trae albums: the gritty breakthrough of Restless; peerless poise of Life Goes On; his 2003 debut Losing Composure. He narrates over songs such as “Children of Men” and “Book of Life” with a pitch-perfect gravel tone. No matter where Tha Truth twists and turns for happiness, there’s the shadow of a bleak reality right behind it. It’s a world that perfectly describes Trae, a benefactor to many who sees pitfalls more often than not.

It has been said on numerous occasions that strange circumstances follow Trae Tha Truth around. From his Southwest Houston upbringing to the ebbs and flows of a rap career that made him a citywide and regional legend. He’s watched his eyes sink low behind black shades, his body hit with bullets in shootings and thrown through a political hardship that left him inside under Iran like sanctions from conglomerate radio. Yet, he’s smiling.

“My reason for making music is to show you that, ‘Shit, you got it bad? I done been through way worse and I’m still here’,” he tells me days later. Although we don’t speak at the listening session, he calls me the next day while on the road to Dallas. He’s put together listening sessions for Tha Truth, his long-awaited Grand Hustle/ABN debut album, all over the country. There’s a session in Atlanta later in the week, same for Chicago and Milwaukee, something Trae admits that has messed up his sleep schedule completely. Once Trae Day is over, he’ll hop a flight to catch an interview with New York-based Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club. In short, his main consumer fan base all over the country is getting a taste of the album — a project that has been, in his words, 1,300 songs in the making.

* * *

“For Everyone & Everything I’ve Lost…Imma Make Mine Proud” Trae Tha Truth

Heartbreak and triumph have met Frazier Thompson III at almost every corner. Born on the third of July, 1980, he was brought up on the Southwest side of Houston, constantly moving to the Northwest side and back. To him, growing up in Southwest Houston in the ‘80s gave way to the usual cast of characters: your robbers, your killers, your drug dealers, your athletes, your jackers, everything.

“I’ve been everywhere,” he says. “Damn near every hood in the city has embraced me. I’ve been around, a neutral cat. I was younger than a lot of cats and I ran with a lot of the old heads so a lot of youngsters automatically looked up to me because I was next to some of the legends that people love.”

His record as a rapper is almost unblemished, a collection of street tapes and albums that have catapulted him to being known as one of the city’s more unmistakable narrators. Gifted with a gravel, almost hard scrabbled voice, he’s double-timed his way to registering classic tapes since 1998’s Guerilla Maab debut, Rise all the way to 2013’s I Am King mixtape. He’s shaved his head, packed on weight, become a doting father to his boys (one of which is named Houston) and weaved his way through the headlines for an assortment of situations, most of which have had nothing to do with him.

On November 27, 2011, hours after Thanksgiving, Trae’s right-hand man Dominic “Money Clip D” Brown was shot to death outside the Southwest Houston club Breakers, a death that gutted the entire local community. “He was like a brother to Trae,” Trae’s publicist Nancy Byron said of Clip D’s death. “When you saw Clip, you saw Trae.”

When sirens fell outside the Diamonds Gentleman’s Club on June 21, 2012, three people were dead and multiple people including Trae were injured following a shooting. Two of the victims, Carlos Dorsey and Coy Thompson were affiliated with Trae while a third victim, Erica Dotson was merely getting the rapper’s autograph. While Money Clip D’s death has remained unsolved, the shooter involved in the deaths of Dorsey and Thompson has been charged with capital murder and is awaiting trial. Yet despite the tragedy, Trae quickly says he refuses to dwell on it.

“I don’t even want to let people bring negative shit up,” he says bluntly. “I’ve had that black cloud over my head for way too long. People may consider me a superhero because of it but that’s through God. Deal with it head on, ain’t no sense in running from it.”

* * *

“I’m picking up some school supplies for the kids, can I hit you right back?” Trae tells me via phone. It’s Monday, two days before his customary give-back to the City of Houston, and he’s hammering out final details. This year’s lineup of performers features notable names like Ty Dolla $ign, Paul Wall, J-Dawg, Chicago’s Lil Herb, K Camp, Nipsey Hussle and others, plus giveaways and more. Trae pledges to call me the next day to have enough time to pick his brain.

There may not be a more interesting sight than watching Trae, dressed in all white, move around a Walmart with a shopping cart, his mom following behind and he rolling through on an Oxboard. He toys with his cameraman, EZ Access, to show off a shopping cart full of binders, paper and other essential items for underprivileged kids returning to classrooms in the Fall. “Don’t mind my mama set tripping in the video,” he jokingly captions underneath one of the videos posted to his official Instagram page.

“I shut down the whole Walmart,” he says Tuesday evening, recalling the moment. “Every cashier, everybody stopped to take pictures and help out with the school supplies. Me and my mom have a real, brother-sister relationship. We laugh, talk shit, we just do us. You gotta realize, she has three boys that are well known throughout the city. Three different personalities. You can only imagine what hers is like.”
The support from the staffers at Walmart helped Trae get everything he need, picking through enough supplies and goodies that he hopes can benefit someone in need. Still, the amount of awe given to him catches him off guard, even though he’s slowly getting used to it.

“The good thing is, with me being humble, it doesn’t really dawn on me yet,” he says. “I still introduce myself when I meet people and people will respond like, ‘Nigga we know who you are; you don’t have to introduce yourself’. But, it still shocks me even though I’ve been doing this for so long. My mom still gets a kick out of it.”

Since July 22, 2008, Trae Day has been a personal gift from Trae to the city of Houston. Former Mayor Bill White christened the day some seven summers ago, recognizing Trae’s “outstanding work within the community.” He became Houston’s first rapper honored with the distinction, a process that has been repeated for the likes of Bun B, Slim Thug and Lil Keke, who was honored on “713 Day” earlier this month. Trae drove a bright-blue BMW to the ceremony then, excited about the day.

“This day’s real exciting for me,” he told the Houston Chronicle in 2008. “I’m just glad I’m in this situation.”

He explained more about how important the honor felt to him in a 2010 interview with MTV. “No matter how big people may think I am, I’m always in the streets giving that helping hand,” he said. “What I do on my day is I don’t make it about me, even though it’s called ‘Trae Day’, I make it a day for the kids and the families that need help.”

The annual event moves around the city almost in the same fashion that cities are awarded Super Bowls. Sharpstown Mall held the initial block party in 2008, followed by Texas Southern University in 2009, the old International Ballroom on the city’s Southwest side in 2010, Delmar Stadium in 2011, Northwest Mall in 2012 and, for the past two years, in the NRG Stadium parking lot the past two years, and today at Sam Houston Race Park. Every Trae Day features a caravan of celebrities and guests, giveaways such as rims, jewelry and more. Yet, no Trae Day has garnered the amount of attention that Trae Day 2009 did, for better or worse.

“People know what I stand for. I stood for it then and I stand for it now. At the end of the day, you can’t control the whole world.” he says of the much-documented event. “I’m the type of person that even though I’ve been thrown worlds of controversy, I’ve let go and let past it.”
The story of that hot July night near TSU is etched into Houston rap history at this point. The large crowd that had gathered experienced zero issues or frustration save for a few people tussling over a backpack, which Trae shut down himself while standing onstage. At 8 p.m., the fire marshal approached the grounds, determining due to overcrowding that the event needed to be shut down for safety concerns. People began leaving and throngs of teenagers, adults and parents crowded together, waiting for the traffic to die down so that everyone could go home.

Then, frenzied chaos.

A group of men with ties to the Bloods got into a dispute with a rival gang. One pulled out a gun and opened fire. The crowd dispersed in a sea of screams and bodies rushing to find safety. In its wake, eight people were shot, the victims ranging from 14 to 21 years old. The reaction from the event swiftly moved from gauging why gang members would choose a public setting with kids to exchange gunfire to Trae himself, who had nothing to do with the incident.

A war of words between the rapper and former KBXX 97.9 The Box personality Nnete Inyangumia ensued. Inyangumia, citing what many consider “respectability politics,” took aim at Trae’s music as a source for why the shooting took place as if he describing his world and losses influenced a lost teenager to shoot at people. The end result of the back and forth equaled perdition for Trae Tha Truth. He was exiled, no longer to be put in rotation or even mentioned at KBXX. He became Voldermort at the station, and the consequences of even siding with him led to firings and suspensions. Not until 2014, when The Box’s competitor in 93.7 The Beat arrived, would Trae would be heard on the city’s airwaves.

The five years in between would see Trae return to crafting mixtapes, salvaging alliances with artists from across the country. His biggest backer became T.I., the Atlanta rapper who made waves in the mid-2000s through a beef with Houston’s Lil’ Flip, amid his own personal rise to a healthy commercial appeal in music. Trae signed with T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint in late 2012.

“When cats [who are] cut from a certain cloth give their word and shake their hand, that’s what makes it a done deal – the ink is just a formality,” T.I. told MTV about the signing.

Trae agreed. “Me and Tip are similar in a lot of ways,” he said then. “We both understand what it is.”

The partnership stands strong to this day. With Trae appearing on multiple Grand Hustle projects since the signing, everything about Tha Truth feels like it’s occurring at the proper time. “They know what I’m capable of doing, how I’m able to take my own lead,” Trae says now, his voice assured of what’s to come when the long-awaited project drops this Friday. “Tip was the last feature before we had to turn the album in. [Grand Hustle] didn’t offer much advice or criticism about it, they let me do me. The first time they even heard the album was the same way you heard it. They was proud because they knew I was going to get in there and do exactly what I said I was going to do.”

He looks at the album, mixed with club records such as “Tricken Every Car I Got” and “Yeah Hoe” along with more personal like vent sessions as a form of catharsis. Freeing. He constantly thinks of avoiding be constricting or placing in a box, offering other collaborators entry into his world as opposed to having to venture into theirs. He enjoys watching the city grow and some of its rappers mentioned with some of the other legends in the genre. He knows his body is restless but he cannot stop. His self-proclaimed “‘Pac ethic” has consumed him, to the point where if he wanted to, the sequel to Tha Truth would come out next week.

“I call it public crucifixion,” he says of his trials and resulting joy. “That’s going through all the fucked-up shit you go through. [They] laugh at you. Some don’t laugh, but at the end of the day, you ended in a different way than what they expected.”

Such is the truth.

Trae Day 2015 is today at Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 N. Sam Houston Pkwy W., and totally free. Gates open at 3 p.m.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell